Next Phase of Transformative Growth and Leadership to Focus On Building a Unified “Cancer System” Across Nation’s Premier Matrixed Cancer Center
Robert H. Vonderheide, MD, DPhil, has been appointed to a second five-year term as director of the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC) at the University of Pennsylvania, following a highly successful tenure that saw 17 FDA approvals in oncology for therapies based on studies led or co-led by ACC investigators, high-impact basic and translational research discoveries, expansion of radiation oncology services to new sites across the Philadelphia region, and development of new methods for live tumor imaging during surgeries. Under his leadership, the ACC has also launched new cancer home care and telemedicine programs, and initiatives that drove improvements in germline genetic testing, cancer screenings and clinical trial participation by minority patients. He will continue in his roles as Vice President for Cancer Programs for the University of Pennsylvania Health System and Vice Dean for Cancer Programs in Penn’s Perelman School of Medicine.
In the next phase of his leadership, Dr. Vonderheide will build on the development of pathways to ensure that – amid the increasingly complex landscape of cancer care and research – patients across the entire health system are able to access leading-edge Penn Medicine care no matter where they live. Among key examples already underway: Proton therapy at Lancaster General Health and Virtua Health in New Jersey, both set to open this year; sub-specialty surgery consultation at outpatient sites and Penn Medicine’s regional hospitals; and telemedical options for genetic counseling and CAR T cell therapy and bone marrow transplant evaluation and education.
“Patients can expect an exceptional experience at every location across our health system – a place they are cared for by the most committed staff, specialized nurses, and top physician experts. Now, we are harmonizing that patient experience to ensure that every patient has the most seamless care and robust options across different sites of care, and the assistance to navigate easily between them,” said University of Pennsylvania Health System CEO Kevin B. Mahoney. “Under Dr. Vonderheide’s leadership, we are ensuring that every patient has every opportunity for the most personalized treatment and the very best chance at a cure through every door they enter across Penn Medicine.”
Vonderheide’s renewal as ACC director includes a five-year, $130 million investment from the health system to provide resources and infrastructure to unify all missions of cancer care and research across Penn Medicine.
Growing access to cancer clinical trials is a key area of focus, through the development of a cancer clinical trials network, including more opportunities for patients at Penn Medicine’s regional hospitals to participate in clinical trials being led at the ACC’s main campus sites in Philadelphia, and the expansion of other trial sites closer to patients’ homes. Additional efforts will harness the power of Penn’s unified electronic health record, from new approaches to involve patients in the Penn Medicine BioBank to expansion of programs providing patients with “e-nudges” to schedule mammograms and other tests and appointments through the MyPennMedicine portal.
“This is a time of exciting, unprecedented momentum for cancer care and research. The cancer death rate has dropped faster in the past two years than ever before, due in part to the development of prevention strategies and of targeted and immunotherapies for an array of diseases,” said J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, dean of the Perelman School of Medicine and Executive Vice President of the University of Pennsylvania for the Health System. “Dr. Vonderheide embodies that momentum, as an exceptional collaborator who brings experts together across different disciplines to focus efforts on the most innovative ways to meet our shared goals of driving cancer discovery and improving patient care.”
The ACC has continuously been designated as a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) since 1973, one of 52 such Centers in the United States. It is among the nation’s most highly ranked cancer centers, providing care to adults during more than 300,000 outpatient visits annually across the six-hospital Penn Medicine Cancer System, as well as delivering more than 190,000 outpatient infusion therapies, over 130,000 radiation treatments and 330 stem cell transplants each year. The ACC was rated as “exceptional” during its competitive research funding review, the highest possible merit rating for an NCI Cancer Center.
Dr. Vonderheide is a leading authority in cancer immunology, leading a lab and clinical research focused on immunotherapies and vaccines for pancreatic, breast, and other cancers. He serves on the boards of directors for the American Association of Cancer Research, the American Association of Cancer Institutes, and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. He is a member of the NCI Board of Scientific Advisers.
He received his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Notre Dame, and is a graduate of the Harvard Medical School, as well as Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in immunology as a Rhodes Scholar. He completed residency training in internal medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and a fellowship in medical oncology at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute.